Call for ‘sensible approach to cultural expression’ as bonfire consultation starts

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Plans by nationalist controlled Mid Ulster Council for a bonfire policy could alienate the minority unionist community, it was claimed yesterday.

DUP MLA for the area Keith Buchanan claims it is a “direct attack on the unionist tradition and an attempt to “suppress anything relating to the culture.”

Mr Buchanan said a sensible approach to cultural expression was needed.

In recent weeks posters have gone up in unionist parts of the district threatening that “cultural oppression can only lead to aggression toward the oppressor”.

Nationalist politicians have strongly condemned the posters, claiming they were sinister and threatening to council workers.

Mid Ulster District Council is currently consulting the public on its bonfire proposals and is appealing for interested parties to get involved.

The consultation went live on the council’s web site on Monday.

Sinn Féin Mid Ulster MP Francie Molloy is urging constituents to respond to “this hugely important consultation.”

“We have seen in recent years the trauma and distress that rogue bonfires have caused to communities who live in fear during the summer months,” he said.

“Anything that we can do to make bonfires safer and better managed, while protecting life, property and the environment and which recognises their place as an element of cultural celebration, must always be welcomed.”

But Mr Buchanan is of the opinion that there are some on the council who have one agenda, and that is to remove “anything relating to unionism or a British identity.”

“The approach taken by council was not an inclusive one and the question asked, what engagement has happened with relation to a sensible discussion with those within their community that express part of their culture through means of an 11th night bonfire?

“Not all within unionism express their culture through this form, however, they watch with interest and are increasingly concerned that this is another way of cultural domination by this council.

“Some may snigger at their so called power, however, if Mid Ulster Council want an inclusive place to live then there must be space for everyone to express their identity.

“I and my colleagues have been working with all communities across Mid Ulster and indeed this community to bring about a sense of belonging to those that council are trying to leave behind.”

He stressed discussions to improve and address concerns at some bonfire sites are ongoing.

“Leaving this community behind or ignoring them is not a solution and engagement is needed at all levels from Council.

“I hope Mid Ulster District Council take on board and have a conversation with all involved not just those that want to override this and my community.”

Sinn Féin Councillor Ronan McGinley pointed out that the policy was about protecting good relations in the community.

“The purpose of our council’s policy is to ensure that all bonfires which occupy council-owned land are built in a way which adheres to Health and Safety policy, paying particular notice to protecting good relations,” he said.

“We want to see bonfires which present no threat to life, property or the environment and which are free from hate crime.”

The Chair of the Council’s environment committee expressed the hope that the public consultation would garner feedback from the community on the proposals.

“I would call on anyone living in Mid Ulster to take part in this consultation,” he went on.

“As with anything that involves the use of public money, accountability is at the heart of this issue, and we want to ensure that the service we provide to the community is in line with their wants and needs.”